Mourning Becomes Electra, by Eugene O'Neill

Act Four

SceneSame as Act One, Scene One — exterior of the house. It is in the late afternoon of a day three days later. The Mannon house has much the same appearance as it had in the first act of “Homecoming.” Soft golden sunlight shimmers in a luminous mist on the Greek temple portico, intensifying the whiteness of the columns, the deep green of the shutters, the green of the shrubbery, the black and green of the pines. The columns cast black bars of shadow on the gray stone wall behind them. The shutters are all fastened back, the windows open. On the ground floor, the upper part of the windows, raised from the bottom, reflect the sun in a smouldering stare, as of brooding revengeful eyes.

Seth appears walking slowly up the drive from right, front. He has a pair of grass clippers and potters along pretending to trim the edge of the lawn along the drive. But in reality he is merely killing time, chewing tobacco, and singing mournfully to himself, in his aged, plaintive wraith of a once good baritone, the chanty “Shenandoah”:

Seth —

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you

A-way, my rolling river,

Oh, Shenandoah, I can’t get near you

Way-ay, I’m bound away

Across the wide Missouri.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter

A-way, you rolling river.”

(stops singing and stands peering off left toward the flower garden — shakes his head and mutters to himself) There she be pickin’ my flowers agin. Like her Maw used to — on’y wuss. She’s got every room in the house full of ’em a’ready. Durn it, I hoped she’d stop that once the funeral was over. There won’t be a one left in my garden! (He looks away and begins pottering about again, and mutters grimly) A durn queer thin’ fur a sodger to kill himself cleanin’ his gun, folks is sayin’. They’ll fight purty shy of her now. A Mannon has come to mean sudden death to ’em. (then with a grim pride) But Vinnie’s able fur ’em. They’ll never git her to show nothin’. Clean Mannon strain!

(Lavinia enters from the left. The three days that have intervened have effected a remarkable change in her. Her body, dressed in deep mourning, again appears flat-chested and thin. The Mannon mask-semblance of her face appears intensified now. It is deeply lined, haggard with sleeplessness and strain, congealed into a stony emotionless expression. Her lips are bloodless, drawn taut in a grim line. She is carrying a large bunch of flowers. She holds them out to Seth and speaks in a strange, empty voice.)

Lavinia — Take these, Seth, and give them to Hannah. Tell her to set them around inside. I want the house to be full of flowers. Peter is coming, and I want everything to be pretty and cheerful. (She goes and sits at the top of the steps, bolt upright, her arms held stiffly to her sides, her legs and feet pressed together, and stares back into the sun-glare with unblinking, frozen, defiant eyes.)

Seth —(stands holding the flowers and regarding her worriedly) I seed you settin’ out here on the steps when I got up at five this mornin’— and every mornin’ since Orin — Ain’t you been gittin’ no sleep? (She stares before her as if she had not heard him. He goes on coaxingly.) How’d you like if I hauled one of them sofas out fur you to lie on, Vinnie? Mebbe you could take a couple o’ winks an’ it’d do you good.

Lavinia — No, thank you, Seth. I’m waiting for Peter. (then after a pause, curiously) Why didn’t you tell me to go in the house and lie down? (Seth pretends not to hear the question, avoiding her eyes.) You understand, don’t you? You’ve been with us Mannons so long! You know there’s no rest in this house which Grandfather built as a temple of Hate and Death!

Seth —(blurts out) Don’t you try to live here, Vinnie! You marry Peter and git clear!

Lavinia — I’m going to marry him! And I’m going away with him and forget this house and all that ever happened in it!

Seth — That’s talkin’, Vinnie!

Lavinia — I’ll close it up and leave it in the sun and rain to die. The portraits of the Mannons will rot on the walls and the ghosts will fade back into death. And the Mannons will be forgotten. I’m the last and I won’t be one long. I’ll be Mrs. Peter Niles. Then they’re finished! Thank God! (She leans back in the sunlight and closes her eyes. Seth stares at her worriedly, shakes his head and spits. Then he hears something and peers down the drive, off left.)

Seth — Vinnie. Here’s Hazel comin’.

Lavinia —(jerks up stiffly with a look of alarm) Hazel? What does she want? (She springs up as if she were going to run in the house, then stands her ground on the top of the steps — her voice hardening) Seth, you go work in back, please!

Seth — Ayeh. (He moves slowly off behind the lilacs as Hazel enters from left, front — calling back) Evenin’, Hazel.

Hazel — Good evening, Seth. (She stops short and stares at Lavinia. Lavinia’s eyes are hard and defiant as she stares back. Hazel is dressed in mourning. Her face is sad and pale, her eyes show evidence of much weeping, but there is an air of stubborn resolution about her as she makes up her mind and walks to the foot of the steps.)

Lavinia — What do you want? I’ve got a lot to attend to.

Hazel —(quietly) It won’t take me long to say what I’ve come to say, Vinnie. (Suddenly she bursts out) It’s a lie about Orin killing himself by accident! I know it is! He meant to!

Lavinia — You better be careful what you say. I can prove what happened. Peter was here —

Hazel — I don’t care what anyone says!

Lavinia — I should think you’d be the last one to accuse Orin —

Hazel — I’m not accusing him! Don’t you dare say that! I’m accusing you! You drove him to it! Oh, I know I can’t prove it — any more than I can prove a lot of things Orin hinted at! But I know terrible things must have happened — and that you’re to blame for them, somehow!

Lavinia —(concealing a start of fear — changing to a forced reproachful tone) What would Orin think of you coming here the day of his funeral to accuse me of the sorrow that’s afflicted our family?

Hazel —(feeling guilty and at the same time defiant and sure she is right) All right, Vinnie. I won’t say anything more. But I know there’s something — and so do you — something that was driving Orin crazy —(She breaks down and sobs.) Poor Orin!

Lavinia —(stares straight before her. Her lips twitch. In a stifled voice between her clenched teeth) Don’t — do that!

Hazel —(controlling herself — after a pause) I’m sorry. I didn’t come to talk about Orin.

Lavinia —(uneasily) What did you come for?

Hazel — About Peter.

Lavinia —(as if this were something she had been dreading — harshly) You leave Peter and me alone!

Hazel — I won’t! You’re not going to marry Peter and ruin his life! (pleading now) You can’t! Don’t you see he could never be happy with you, that you’ll only drag him into this terrible thing — whatever it is — and make him share it?

Lavinia — There is no terrible thing!

Hazel — I know Peter can’t believe evil of anyone, but living alone with you, married, you couldn’t hide it, he’d get to feel what I feel. You could never be happy because it would come between you! (pleading again) Oh, Vinnie, you’ve got to be fair to Peter! You’ve got to consider his happiness — if you really love him!

Lavinia —(hoarsely) I do love him!

Hazel — It has started already — his being made unhappy through you!

Lavinia — You’re lying!

Hazel — He fought with Mother last night when she tried to talk to him — the first time he ever did such a thing! It isn’t like Peter. You’ve changed him. He left home and went to the hotel to stay. He said he’d never speak to Mother or me again. He’s always been such a wonderful son before — and brother. We three have been so happy. It’s broken Mother’s heart. All she does is sit and cry. (desperately) Oh, Vinnie, you can’t do it! You will be punished if you do! Peter would get to hate you in the end!

Lavinia — No!

Hazel — Do you want to take the risk of driving Peter to do what Orin did? He might — if he ever discovered the truth!

Lavinia —(violently) What truth, you little fool! Discover what?

Hazel —(accusingly) I don’t know — but you know! Look in your heart and ask your conscience before God if you ought to marry Peter!

Lavinia —(desperately — at the end of her tether) Yes! Before God! Before anything! (then glaring at her — with a burst of rage) You leave me alone — go away — or I’ll get Orin’s pistol and kill you! (Her rage passes, leaving her weak and shaken. She goes to her chair and sinks on it.)

Hazel —(recoiling) Oh! You are wicked! I believe you would —! Vinnie! What’s made you like this?

Lavinia — Go away!

Hazel — Vinnie! (Lavinia closes her eyes. Hazel stands staring at her. After a pause — in a trembling voice) All right. I’ll go. All I can do is trust you. I know in your heart you can’t be dead to all honor and justice — you, a Mannon! (Lavinia gives a little bitter laugh without opening her eyes.) At least you owe it to Peter to let him read what Orin had in that envelope. Orin asked me to make him read it before he married you. I’ve told Peter about that, Vinnie.

Lavinia —(without opening her eyes — strangely, as if to herself) The dead! Why can’t the dead die!

Hazel —(stares at her frightenedly, not knowing what to do — looks around her uncertainly and sees someone coming from off left, front — quickly) Here he comes now. I’ll go by the back. I don’t want him to meet me. (She starts to go but stops by the dump of lilacs — pityingly) I know you’re suffering, Vinnie — and I know your conscience will make you do what’s right — and God will forgive you. (She goes quickly behind the lilacs and around the house to the rear.)

Lavinia —(looks after her and calls defiantly) I’m not asking God or anybody for forgiveness. I forgive myself! (She leans back and closes her eyes again — bitterly) I hope there is a hell for the good somewhere! (Peter enters from the left, front. He looks haggard and tormented. He walks slowly, his eyes on the ground — then sees Lavinia and immediately makes an effort to pull himself together and appear cheerful.)

Peter — Hello, Vinnie. (He sits on the edge of the portico beside her. She still keeps her eyes closed, as if afraid to open them. He looks at her worriedly.) You look terribly worn out. Haven’t you slept? (He pats her hand with awkward tenderness. Her mouth twitches and draws down at the corners as she stifles a sob. He goes on comfortingly.) You’ve had an awfully hard time of it, but never mind, we’ll be married soon.

Lavinia —(without opening her eyes — longingly) You’ll love me and keep me from remembering?

Peter — You bet I will! And the first thing is to get you away from this darned house! I may be a fool but I’m beginning to feel superstitious about it myself.

Lavinia —(without opening her eyes — strangely) Yes. Love can’t live in it. We’ll go away and leave it alone to die — and we’ll forget the dead.

Peter —(a bitter resentful note coming into his voice) We can’t move too far away to suit me! I hate this damned town now and everyone in it!

Lavinia —(opens her eyes and looks at him startledly) I never heard you talk that way before, Peter — bitter!

Peter —(avoiding her eyes) Some things would make anyone bitter!

Lavinia — You’ve quarrelled with your mother and Hazel — on account of me — is that it?

Peter — How did you know?

Lavinia — Hazel was just here.

Peter — She told you? The darned fool! What did she do that for?

Lavinia — She doesn’t want me to marry you.

Peter —(angrily) The little sneak! What right has she —? (then a bit uneasily — forcing a smile) Well, you won’t pay any attention to her, I hope.

Lavinia —(more as if she were answering some voice in herself than him — stiffening in her chair — defiantly) No!

Peter — She and Mother suddenly got a lot of crazy notions in their heads. But they’ll get over them.

Lavinia —(staring at him searchingly — uneasily) Supposing they don’t?

Peter — They will after we are married — or I’m through with them!

Lavinia —(A pause. Then she takes his face in her hands and turns it to hers.) Peter! Let me look at you! You’re suffering! Your eyes have a hurt look! They’ve always been so trustful! They look suspicious and afraid of life now! Have I done this to you already, Peter? Are you beginning to suspect me? Are you wondering what it was Orin wrote?

Peter —(protesting violently) No! Of course I’m not! Don’t I know Orin was out of his mind? Why would I pay any attention —?

Lavinia — You swear you’ll never suspect me — of anything?

Peter — What do you think I am?

Lavinia — And you’ll never let anyone come between us? Nothing can keep us from being happy, can it? You won’t let anything, will you?

Peter — Of course I won’t!

Lavinia —(more and more desperately) I want to get married right away, Peter! I’m afraid! Would you marry me now — this evening? We can find a minister to do it. I can change my clothes in a second and put on the color you like! Marry me today, Peter! I’m afraid to wait!

Peter —(bewildered and a bit shocked) But — you don’t mean that, do you? We couldn’t. It wouldn’t look right the day Orin — out of respect for him. (then suspicious in spite of himself) I can’t see why you’re so afraid of waiting. Nothing can happen, can it? Was there anything in what Orin wrote that would stop us from —?

Lavinia —(with a wild beaten laugh) The dead coming between! They always would, Peter! You trust me with your happiness! But that means trusting the Mannon dead — and they’re not to be trusted with love! I know them too well! And I couldn’t bear to watch your eyes grow bitter and hidden from me and wounded in their trust of life! I love you too much!

Peter —(made more uneasy and suspicious by this) What are you talking about, Vinnie? You make me think there was something —

Lavinia —(desperately) No — nothing! (then suddenly throwing her arms around him) No! Don’t think of that — not yet! I want a little while of happiness — in spite of all the dead! I’ve earned it! I’ve done enough —! (growing more desperate — pleading wildly) Listen, Peter! Why must we wait for marriage? I want a moment of joy — of love — to make up for what’s coming! I want it now! Can’t you be strong, Peter? Can’t you be simple and pure? Can’t you forget sin and see that all love is beautiful? (She kisses him with desperate passion.) Kiss me! Hold me close! Want me! Want me so much you’d murder anyone to have me! I did that — for you! Take me in this house of the dead and love me! Our love will drive the dead away! It will shame them back into death! (at the topmost pitch of desperate, frantic abandonment) Want me! Take me, Adam! (She is brought back to herself with a start by this name escaping her — bewilderedly, laughing idiotically) Adam? Why did I call you Adam? I never even heard that name before — outside of the Bible! (then suddenly with a hopeless, dead finality) Always the dead between! It’s no good trying any more!

Peter —(convinced she is hysterical and yet shocked and repelled by her display of passion) Vinnie! You’re talking crazy! You don’t know what you’re saying! You’re not — like that!

Lavinia —(in a dead voice) I can’t marry you, Peter. You mustn’t ever see me again. (He stares at her, stunned and stupid.) Go home. Make it up with your mother and Hazel. Marry someone else. Love isn’t permitted to me. The dead are too strong!

Peter —(his mind in a turmoil) Vinnie! You can’t —! You’ve gone crazy —! What’s changed you like this? (then suspiciously) Is it — what Orin wrote? What was it? I’ve got a right to know, haven’t I? (then as she doesn’t answer — more suspiciously) He acted so queer about — what happened to you on the Islands. Was it something there — something to do with that native —?

Lavinia —(her first instinctive reaction one of hurt insult) Peter! Don’t you dare —! (then suddenly seizing on this as a way out — with calculated coarseness) All right! Yes, if you must know! I won’t lie any more! Orin suspected I’d lusted with him! And I had!

Peter —(shrinking from her aghast — brokenly) Vinnie! You’ve gone crazy! I don’t believe — You — you couldn’t!

Lavinia —(stridently) Why shouldn’t I? I wanted him! I wanted to learn love from him — love that wasn’t a sin! And I did, I tell you! He had me! I was his fancy woman!

Peter —(wincing as if she had struck him in the face, stares at her with a stricken look of horrified repulsion — with bitter, broken anger) Then — Mother and Hazel were right about you — you are bad at heart — no wonder Orin killed himself — God, I— I hope you’ll be punished — I—! (He hurries blindly off down the drive to the left.)

Lavinia —(watches him go — then with a little desperate cry starts after him) Peter! It’s a lie! I didn’t —! (She stops abruptly and stiffens into her old, square-shouldered attitude. She looks down the drive after him — then turns away, saying in a lost, empty tone) Good-bye, Peter. (Seth enters from the left rear, coming around the corner of the house. He stands for a moment watching her, grimly wondering. Then to call her attention to his presence, he begins singing half under his breath his melancholy “Shenandoah” chanty, at the same time looking at the ground around him as if searching for something.)

Seth —

“Oh, Shenandoah, I can’t get near you

Way-ay, I’m bound away —”

Lavinia —(without looking at him, picking up the words of the chanty — with a grim writhen smile) I’m not bound away — not now, Seth. I’m bound here — to the Mannon dead! (She gives a dry little cackle of laughter and turns as if to enter the house.)

Seth —(frightened by the look on her face, grabs her by the arm) Don’t go in there, Vinnie!

Lavinia —(grimly) Don’t be afraid. I’m not going the way Mother and Orin went. That’s escaping punishment. And there’s no one left to punish me. I’m the last Mannon. I’ve got to punish myself! Living alone here with the dead is a worse act of justice than death or prison! I’ll never go out or see anyone! I’ll have the shutters nailed closed so no sunlight can ever get in. I’ll live alone with the dead, and keep their secrets, and let them hound me, until the curse is paid out and the last Mannon is let die! (with a strange cruel smile of gloating over the years of self-torture) I know they will see to it I live for a long time! It takes the Mannons to punish themselves for being born!

Seth —(with grim understanding) Ayeh. And I ain’t heard a word you’ve been sayin’, Vinnie. (pretending to search the ground again) Left my clippers around somewheres.

Lavinia —(turns to him sharply) You go now and close the shutters and nail them tight.

Seth — Ayeh.

Lavinia — And tell Hannah to throw out all the flowers.

Seth — Ayeh. (He goes past her up the steps and into the house. She ascends to the portico — and then turns and stands for a while, stiff and square-shouldered, staring into the sunlight with frozen eyes. Seth leans out of the window at the right of the door and pulls the shutters closed with a decisive bang. As if this were a word of command, Lavinia pivots sharply on her heel and marches woodenly into the house, closing the door behind her.)


This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59